Hodgson, Dr. Richard
Hodgson, Dr. Richard (1855–1905)(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
In Nandor Fodor’s estimation, Dr. Richard Hodgson was “one of the main pillars of the SPR [Society for Psychical Research] in its early years, the keenest, most critical investigator, a man of brilliant intellect and scholarly education.”
Hodgson was born in Melbourne, Australia, on September 24, 1885. He attended the University of Melbourne and received a doctor of law degree in 1878. He arrived in England that same year and in 1881, attended St. John’s College in Cambridge, where he studied poetry. He was active in the undergraduate Ghost Society, which was intent on investigating all forms of psychical phenomena. One of Hodgson’s professors at Cambridge was Henry Sidgwick, who became the first president of the Society for Psychical Research. Hodgson himself became a member of the society and, in November 1884, was part of a committee set up to investigate Helena Blavatsky. Traveling to India, he spent three months there investigating and finally exposing a huge network of fraud in the Theosophical Society, and with Blavatsky in particular. Hodgson became especially skeptical of physical mediumship and phenomena, believing that “nearly all professional mediums form a gang of vulgar tricksters, who are more or less in league with one another.” The president of the London Spiritualist Alliance, E. Dawson Rogers, commented that Hodgson was “a very Saul persecuting the Christians.” In 1895, Hodgson investigated Eusapia Paladino and found nothing to change his opinion. In fact the change which did eventually come about did so very slowly and gradually, as Hodgson tried to resist what he began to recognize as true phenomena.
The American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1885 and led by William James, was suffering from lack of members and, more importantly, lack of funds. Hodgson was asked if he would go to America and attempt to get the ASPR back on its feet. He agreed to do so and in 1887 traveled to Boston and became Secretary for the society. He also became Manager of Research and began an exhaustive investigation of the trance medium Leonora E. Piper. Hodgson was eventually so impressed by her performances and the evidence she produced that he became converted to Spiritualism himself. He reported in Proceedings (Vol. XIII, 1897), “I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the ‘chief communicators’ … are veritably the personalities that they claim to be; that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us whom we call living through Mrs. Piper’s entranced organism. Having tried the hypothesis of telepathy from the living for several years, and the ’spirit’ hypothesis also for several years, I have no hesitation in affirming with the most absolute assurance that the ’spirit’ hypothesis is justified by its fruits and the other hypothesis is not.” Hodgson had been stunned with the personal information that Mrs. Piper provided about his family. Her details about deceased persons were so accurate that Hodgson hired private detectives to carry out surveillance to see if she actually obtained the information fraudulently.
In 1897, Hodgson returned to England to become an SPR Council member and editor of the Journal and Proceedings. A year later, however, he returned to Boston and continued working with Mrs. Piper. On December 20, 1905, Hodgson was playing handball when he had a heart attack and died. He was fifty.